Tuesday, April 3, 2018

MG Historical Fiction Review: The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet

35879383The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet
Format:  ARC paperback
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  448  (hardcover)
Publishing:  April 10th, 2018
Source:  In exchange for an honest review an ARC was received from the publisher.  

Opening Line:  "Gusta Neubronner hadn't expected to be on a bus in Maine when she lost her father."

11-year-old Gusta and her father have just boarded a bus traveling from Portland to Maine when her father suddenly disappears.  A few seconds later, two men board the bus looking for him, Gusta's father is a well known foreign-born labor organizer and "fugitive."  Gusta stays silent and sticks with the original plan to make the trip to Maine her father had arranged, but now all on her own.   

When Gusta arrives in Maine, she finds a note inside her mittens from her mother to Mrs. Hooper, her estranged grandmother,  telling her to sell Gusta's French horn to pay for her room and board.    Gusta hastily discards the note because her French horn is her most prized possession, something she could never part with.  With nowhere else to go, she heads toward Mrs. Hooper's Home for State Children, the orphanage her grandmother runs.  Here she meets Grandma Gladys, Aunt Marion, Josie and a rambunctious group of boys.  Being family initially sets Gusta apart from the other kids at the home, but Gusta works very hard to be brave and not let her sadness over her father's disappearance overwhelm her, to put on a happy face to fit in.  

Gusta soon meets her shy cousin Bess and Uncle who's been homebound since his hand was mangled during an accident at the Mill.  Without a union to intervene, he's been unable to get the operation he needs to repair the damage.  Starting school brings numerous new challenges for Gusta, mainly in the way of Molly, a fellow student.  Molly's been orchestrating the formation of a "Real American's Club," and is a real stickler that everyone follows the classes Seven-Points for a Healthy Living project.  Lately, her two main targets have been Gusta and George Thibodeau,  whose father runs the rival dairy farm of Molly's father.  Gusta wants to show she's a good student, but when an unexpected vision test reveals she needs eyeglasses, which she can't pay for, she takes a job working for the local German optometrist tending to his homing pigeons to pay off what she owes.  Gusta has also been keeping two secrets.  The first is the real reason she can't provide a U.S. birth certificate for her school project.  And the second involves a story told to her by her mother of an ancestor who was a sea captain and how he hid a magical wish inside a box on a shelf which Gusta is determined to find if it's inside her grandmother's house.  The only highlight of Gusta's time in Maine is when the local high school band teacher, Mrs. Kendall recognizes her musical talent playing the French Horn and asks her to join the band, but Gusta quickly realizes that if she sold her horn it might be enough money to pay for her Uncle's operation and how could she refuse to help out her cousin Bess?   

Although I'm not typically a historical fiction reader, The Orphan Band of Springdale had so many of the elements that typically pique my interest, a girl who plays a musical instrument, set during the early parts of WWII and hints of a secret magical wish.  What I was surprised with was the messaging that included wealth inequality, foreigner's being seen as "other," and how some German's during this time period were the subject of suspicion and discrimination.  Other subjects included the importance of unions in the US to protect people like Gusta's Uncle and mention of how the rising tensions and the War in Europe led to the enactment of the Smith Act or Alien Registration Act.  Nesbet wonderfully utilizes her character of  Molly as a springboard to show how Molly's claims of patriotism, nationalism, and trying to protect the people of Springdale by calling out Gusta and George as being "unamerican" are misguided, judgemental and wrong.  How past events such as the ones in the story correlate to events sadly occurring even today.   It's an interesting look at this time period from a child's perspective and captures the feeling and emotions of wanting to fit in, the loneliness of being without your family, fear for your father's safety in a place where you're seen as "foreign,"  while at the same time being hopeful and filled with lots of heart.  Highly recommend, I can just imagine all the classroom discussions that could be had, please have a teachers guide.   But not to be missed is the author's note where Nesbet explains the inspiration for the story and the research she performed to get the local and historical details of Gusta's town just right.       

Favorite Line:  "A plan was what would tell your feet where to go and your hands what to do when you got there."


  1. Sounds like a book that would interest me too. As a writer and reader, I was really pulled in by the first line.

  2. This book has a lot of things in it that appeal to me. I am definitely curious about it and will be adding it to my list. Thanks for sharing. :)